Wednesday, March 12, marks the 265th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian architect Vasily Bazhenov.
However, this is a conventional anniversary. Nobody knows for sure when the architect was born, in 1738 or 1737. Even sceptics agree that Bazhenov was the greatest Russian architect of genius. The history of Russian architecture has no other figures, who possessed such a great talent and had large-scale plans, which were, unfortunately, implemented to a small extent.
The Pashkov House (near the Kremlin) is still considered one of Moscow's best buildings, known as symbols of the Russian capital, though experts doubt Bazhenov's authorship. St. Basil's Cathedral also created by Bazhenov decorates Moscow.
The architect's destiny makes us regret that he could not build much because of his confrontation with Empress Catherine II. However, Bazhenov's role in the development of the Russian architecture of the 18th-19th centuries is invaluable. His model of the Kremlin Palace was called the Ninth World's Wonder. The palace was never erected, but inspired many generations of architects. Nowadays, this is an exhibit of the Architecture Museum, which is cherished like the apple of one's eye.
The development and triumph of classicism in Russia is associated with Bazhenov's creative activity. A real European man by the width of his world outlook and level of education, elected in the academies of Paris and Rome, he was the first Russian architect, acknowledged in the West.
"I was a pioneer of the Arts Academy," said Vasily Bazhenov, one of its first graduates, who became its vice-president at the end of his life, under Paul I. Bazhenov was sent to study in Europe and brought to Russia not only remarkable models of the famous buildings, Louvre and St. Peter's Cathedral, and the works by Roman architect Vitruvius, which he translated into Russian and published, but also daring ideas on the development of architecture and town-planning. The project of the Grand Kremlin Palace, the most grandiose plan of the architect, as a matter of fact, turned into an idea of bold Kremlin's reconstruction and creation of Moscow's new centre.
The colossal scale of Bazhenov's personality could be seen in everything he touched: the attempts to organise an art school and a public picture gallery in Moscow, to carry out reforms in the Imperial Arts Academy and to create a Russian architectural theory centre on the basis of the Model House, a design workshop, attached to the Moscow Kremlin.
"The legend of Bazhenov has lived for two centuries, but we know a few things about what he really built. We have trustworthy information only on his building of Tsaritsyno, an imperial residence in Moscow, and a bell-tower of the Church of All the Dolorous Mercy in Bolshaya Ordynka street. The rest are unrealised ideas or disputable attributions," said academician Dmitry Shvidkovsky.
Catherine II considered the gothic palace and park ensemble in Tsaritsyno to be gloomy and ordered to demolish several buildings in a fit of anger. She charged architect Matvei Kozakov with rebuilding the palace on Bazhenov's foundation, but he failed to realise the great idea to the full.
Scholars see hidden historic motives in Bazhenov's disgrace: the secret life of the Russian court, difficult relations between Catherine, Paul and future emperor Alexander I reflected on the destinies of architects and led to the destruction of many ensembles erected by Bazhenov and Starov. Bazhenov's story confirms the guess that Russia needs long life. However, the architect was destined to die at the age of 62, at the peak of his powers, his head full of great plans, at the moment when Russian architecture was finally entrusted to him. Having ascended the throne, Paul I returned the architect from exile, charged him with designing the Mikhailovsky Palace, with compiling a collection of drafts for the edition of "Russian Architecture" in many volumes, and first of all, with presenting his ideas on the proper development of talents of Russian artists.